The elusive good old days.
We tend to look back on the nineteenth century as a genteel time of collecting, when every stamp which came off the presses immediately went to a post office and in turn found a home on a letter destined for legitimate use, unfettered by philatelic influence.
But even in era of classics, stamps perceived by collectors as spurious were on the market and their presence kindled spirited reactions.
One of the first outbursts erupted in the 1890s from a group of collectors angered by issues such as the provisionals released by the Niger Coast Protectorate in 1893.
Today’s topical collectors regard the Greece Olympics set of 1896 as a revered classic, precursor of things to come, but if we were to talk with collectors of the time, we would not have much difficulty finding disdain for these stamps.
These feelings took on an organized voice through a British group, the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps.
Membership consisted of both collectors and dealers. But noble intentions inevitably find the proverbial devil in the details. Philatelic high roads are easily imagined, more difficultly traveled. The group splintered and disbanded because of the exact same issues we encounter today…there were quarrels over which issues were to be boycotted, rules weren’t followed and common ground was impossible to define and as a result, to enforce.
These feelings took root in both Great Britain and the United States. Readers of the Philatelic Record in 1902 braced for a fierce editorial attack on the U.S. Pan-American series.
The rubbish cost the U.S.P.O. Dept. 20 cents per thousand to produce and most of the stock was returned to be destroyed, which will take the guilt off the ginger-bread. Already it is said that the Postal Dept. of the U.S. is not likely to venture on any more show labels.. And as for the speculators, the good souls who, despite the oppression of all respectable philatelic journals, laid in stocks of the rubbish for the purpose of unloading them on gullible stamp collectors, they seem of late to have counted their chickens before they were hatched. Pan-Americans are on the downgrade, Columbians unused are offered slightly below face, and Canadian Jubilees are in the same plight. For all of which philatelists, jealous of the good name and fame of the hobby, will be most thankful.
In the 1930s the APS discussed the establishment of a National Stamp Approval board whose charter was to include passing judgement on the “collectibility” of foreign issues.
Nothing much happened.
It was left to individual collectors to sound off, and sound off they did. In a “Mekeel’s Weekly Stamp News” in April 1934, a collector wrote the paper, just as collectors write today, that they were disgusted with the issuing policies of the United States and were through.
This collector wrote that he had sold his stamps as a protest against “the increasing flow of commemoratives” and judged the Zeppelins as “a philatelic crime.” What pushed this collector over the edge? “The last straw was the imperforate Byrd sheets advertising Mr. Farley.”
And today, a week rarely goes by without similar sentiments surfacing in the philatelic press.
So as we are tempted to rail against whatever stamps tend to ignite our disgust, perhaps we should keep in mind that not only that one man’s poison is indeed another man’s meat, but that our hobby is more influenced by the passage of time, the evolution of taste, the influence of culture and politics and demographics, than by our own dispositions.
In our community of stamp dealers and stamp collectors, some of us would rather rail against such and such a country than take pleasure in whatever nooks and crannies of the vast philatelic world we explore to harvest our own particular delights.
Dealer Member American Philatelic Society